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Past tense

Level: intermediate

Past tense

There are two tenses in English – past and present.

The past tense in English is used:

  • to talk about the past
  • to talk about hypotheses (when we imagine something)
  • for politeness.

There are four past tense forms in English:

Past simple: I worked
Past continuous: I was working
Past perfect: I had worked
Past perfect continuous: I had been working

We use these forms:

  • to talk about the past:

He worked at McDonald's. He had worked there since July.
He was working at McDonald's. He had been working there since July.

  • to refer to the present or future in hypotheses:

It might be dangerous. Suppose they got lost.

This use is very common in wishes:

I wish it wasn't so cold.

and in conditions with if:

He could get a new job if he really tried.
If Jack was playing, they would probably win.

For hypotheses, wishes and conditions in the past, we use the past perfect:

It was very dangerous. What if you had got lost?
I wish I hadn't spent so much money last month.
I would have helped him if he had asked.

and also to talk about the present in a few polite expressions:

Excuse me, I was wondering if this was the train for York.
I just hoped you would be able to help me.

Past tense 1


Past tense 2



I have question
If I have visited place and I am describing it should I refer to present simple or past simple and also the people if I am talking about my someone at past but i wanna say they are kind for ex should I use present simple or past simple
Thanks in advance

Hello Marmar234

You can choose whether to speak about it in the present or in the past. In general, if you want to focus on your visit and your experience there, the past is probably a better choice. If you want to focus on the place, then the present might make more sense. The same is true for speaking about people.

You might find the Talking about the past page useful.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

It is actually an introduction. Now I know why it is so. Thank you so much, I highly appreciate.

Hi there,
Fight to enemy or fight enemy?
Which one is correct and why?
Thanks in advance

Hello mehransam05

'to' is not used before the object of the verb 'fight' -- we just say 'fight the enemy' here.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Please it not clear to me why I should use "is" and past tense in the following context (where chapter x has already been written):
In chapter x concept y "is presented".

I was expecting: In chapter x concept y "was presented".

Hello Baruwanku

I can't say for sure without knowing the context, but, for example, if this is the introduction to a book, since it is explaining the contents of the book, which still exists, the present tense makes sense. If you were explaining an event that happened in the past, then the past tense would be better.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Help with the tenses please- "Back in college, i came to know she had a boyfriend who she had been dating for a while"
- is this sentence correct considering the could is still dating?

Hello Anubhav

That is grammatically correct. It indicates that she had the boyfriend in the past (when you were in college), but it doesn't say anything about the moment of speaking.

All the best


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter & Kirk,
I always get confused using the verb think in past form.
Ex- I thought Alisha was still with me that morning.
I was thinking Alisha was still with me that morning. Could you please explain me the meaning of these two sentences and when to use "thought" and "was thinking" in a sentence with example.